What You Need To Conquer Tough Leadership Challenges

men in life raft

“When his plane hit the ocean, Louie heard nothing at all.  There were only soundless sensations: the plane tearing apart, his body hurtling forward, wires whipping around him, water over him, gravity dragging him under. He thrashed against the wires, and the plane carried him down……..He groped along the wreckage, found an opening, and kicked through. He pulled the inflation cords on his life vest and felt it lift him. He burst into dazzling daylight and breathed.”


This is an excerpt from the book “Unbroken” which chronicles the extraordinary life of Olympic runner, Louie Zamperini. After crashing in the Pacific Ocean during World War 2, surviving a 7 week, 2000 mile journey in a life raft near starvation, continually fighting off attacking sharks, being shot at by Japanese fighter planes and enduring the elements, he had to survive starvation and unspeakable torture for 28 months in Japanese POW camps and then face a difficult re-adjustment to life in the US once rescued.  It’s an amazing story of human endurance and succeeding when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds of survival.


Sadly only one of Louie’s 10 crew mates who crashed into the ocean made it back to home soil. What sets people apart? What enables some to rise above their situation, to not only endure but to overcome what’s thrown at them, and not only survive but to eventually thrive?


While hopefully most of us will never have to overcome the challenges Louie did, we will however most certainly have our own testing times to face and triumph over, especially as leaders, and Louie displayed these 6 leadership traits in bucket loads:


1. Belief – the inner feeling that you will accomplish your leadership responsibilities.

Belief is knowing that you are capable of delivering.


Franklin D Roosevelt said – “The only limit to our realisation of tomorrow will be our doubts of today”.


To lead people and teams effectively there can be no doubt. A leaders belief provides stability under duress. Effective Leaders understand the power of belief because the people they lead have doubt and fear of what is possible.


Napoleon Hill said – “What the mind of man can conceive and believe, the mind of man can achieve”.


Your thoughts will determine your destiny as a leader.


What are you believing?

What are you seeing that no one else sees?

What limits are you placing on your belief?

Do you have doubt?

What do you truly believe?

What does your team believe?


2. Courage – fearing what ought to be feared and how not to fear what ought not to be feared.

What can seem impossible is often possible with courage.


Washington Irving said – “Little minds attain and are subdued by misfortunes but great minds rise above them”.


What are you doing to grow your mind to strengthen your thinking?

Who leads you?

What leadership program are you part of that challenges the way you think and the way you behave as a leader?


At times, leadership will require the courage to make tough decisions- the right decisions for the right reasons.


What is a courageous decision you now need to make?

What are you procrastinating about?

What do you fear that’s holding you back?


3. Desire – a key behaviour for success.  

Many a talented individual has failed because they lack desire.


Abraham Lincoln said – “Always bare in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing”.


What do you truly want to achieve?

How badly do you want to grow yourself as a leader to effectively lead the people you have responsibility for, to go to a higher level?

What is your resolution to succeed?

How hungry are you to want to win?


Desire creates power, and to lead people you need to have an enormous desire for the responsibility of leadership.


What do you need to have a stronger desire about regarding leadership?


4. Persistence – the power to hold on no matter what is happening around you – the power to keep going – the power to endure.

Persistence is the ability to face defeat again and again without giving up – to do what is necessary to achieve your goals.


John D Rockefeller said “I do not think there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance – it overcomes everything, even nature”.


As the leader what do you need to persevere at?


Napoleon Hill said – “Effort only releases its reward after a person refuses to quit.”


Leadership during difficult times requires a leader to stay strong and focused, being driven to persist without ever contemplating quitting!


Where do you need to increase your effort?


David Joseph Schwartz said – “All great achievements require time”.


When you are faced with difficult obstacles as a leader you are in a season and effective leaders persist.  My mentor of 22 years, Jim, told me in September 1992 “It takes 20 years to build anything great”. Jim’s subtle message to me is that you will not be a successful leader unless you persist to lead and grow yourself and the people you have around you – that’s how you grow your business and team to the next level and it will not be a quick and easy exercise. It will take a great deal of time and persistence! There are many levels to achieve – that’s why you need persistence to be an effective leader.

I’ve always kept Jim’s 20-year perspective in mind and it has helped me to persist in my own life during some very, very difficult times.

Leadership is not easy. Leadership is not a given. Leadership is a responsibility and when you have the responsibility to lead people, lead teams and lead organisations, you need persistence.


5. Goals – to focus our attention.

The mind will not reach towards achievement unless it has clear objectives. The magic of leadership begins when we set goals and then the power to accomplish these goals starts to become a reality.


Robert J. McKain said – “There is no achievement without goals”.


One of the key responsibilities of a leader is to keep the team focused on the goal – the big picture, no matter what struggles are happening on that given day, given month or given year. It takes deliberate focus to lead people during difficult times to ensure they stay focused on the goal.


What are your key goals?

What is your short- term goal (3 months)?

What is your long-term goal (3 years)?

Where do you think you are at right now in leading your team to achieve the big picture?

Who has not bought into the goal – big picture?

What are you discerning about the team you lead in relation to the belief they have as a team about the goals you want to achieve as the leader?


6. Imagination – the dream.

Your imagination stands as your own personal laboratory. Here you can rehearse possibilities, map out plans, visualise overcoming obstacles. Imagination turns possibilities into reality. This is why I named the book I wrote “The Dream Is Everything” because it is, and you need to have a powerful imagination that inspires people to follow you as the leader. It creates a deep purpose, drive and energy deep within you as the leader, that not achieving “The Dream” and losing is unacceptable!


George Bernard Shaw said – “You see things and you say, “why”? But I dream things that never were and I say “why not”.


To lead people, you need to answer the “why not”.


Can you answer this question – “Why Not”?


The “why not” will give you and your team hope for the future which gives you power in the present.


When it comes to knowing what you really need to lead during difficult times right now, what do you need?


If you are currently experiencing tough and challenging times as a leader, when everything seems stacked against you, can I encourage you to focus on building the above 6 leadership traits that you need to keep leading. Have belief, have courage and build your desire. Stay focussed on your goal, persist against all odds and dare to dream!  These leadership traits not only ensure the mere survival of leaders but they also enable them to eventually conquer and rise again.

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Peter Cox

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